'I am Eliminating Jail for Violating an Order': Texas Gov Retroactively Bans Imprisonment For Business Owners

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Posted: May 07, 2020 11:41 AM
'I am Eliminating Jail for Violating an Order': Texas Gov Retroactively Bans Imprisonment For Business Owners

Source: AP Photo/Eric Gay

UPDATE: Shortly after Gov. Abbott's order the Supreme Court of Texas ordered the release of Shelley Luther from Jail, where she has been confined since Tuesday. Her attorney told Fox News that he is still awaiting details of her release.

ORIGINAL STORY: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Thursday that no citizens could be jailed for violating his executive stay-at-home order, retroactive to April 2. The governor's announcement is expected to facilitate the immediate release of Dallas hair salon owner, Shelley Luther. 

"Governor Greg Abbott today modified his executive orders related to COVID-19 to eliminate confinement as a punishment for violating these orders," a statement from the governor's office said Thursday morning. "These modifications are being applied retroactively." 

The governor expressed severe frustration with a Dallas judge on Wednesday regarding his order to jail a local hair salon owner for defying an executive order that all "nonessential" businesses remain closed. Judge Eric Moye sentenced mother and business owner Shelley Luther to seven days in jail on Tuesday for defying that order and remaining open even when faced with court orders to close immediately. 

Moye gave Luther the option to avoid a jail sentence and only pay a hefty fine if she agreed to apologize for keeping her business, Salon a la Mode, open after being ordered to shut down. Moye also told Luther that she was "selfish" in her actions and listed many other personal charges against her character that he requested she apologize for. Further, he mandated that she close her salon at once or incur further daily fines until the expiration of the executive order, which Abbott already set for this Friday. 

Luther declined to grovel before the court, noting that her choice to open her business against the executive order and subsequent court orders was necessary to continue to provide food for her children. She also said that she was already behind on mortgage payments and worried that her 19 employees would also go hungry. 

"I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I am selfish because feeding my kids is not selfish," Luther said in a courtroom on Tuesday. "I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they'd rather feed their kids. So sir, if you think the law is more important than kids being fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I'm not going to shut the salon." Luther was then taken to jail to begin her punitive sentence. 

Luther's case has become a national flashpoint for Americans clamoring to reopen the economy and put millions of unemployed workers back on the clock. Both Gov. Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Wexton (R) condemned Moye's sentence for Luther, saying that jail should have been a last resort while enforcing the executive order. 

“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” said Governor Abbott on Thursday. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order." The governor then specifically named Luther as an example of a Texan who should be freed immediately under his new declaration.

"This order is retroactive to April 2nd, supersedes local orders and if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther." Gov. Abbott also named two other women in Texas who were arrested and charged at the end of April for offering beauty services from their homes.

"It may also ensure that other Texans like Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata who were arrested in Laredo, should not be subject to confinement," the governor continued. He also condemned the hypocritical advocation by some for releasing convicted offenders from confinement only to jail those who are simply trying to earn a living amid an economic crisis. 

"As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place.”

After Luther's case made the jump to national headlines this week, a GoFundMe page was set up that has, thus far, raised more than $500,000 to support her court costs, income loss, and her business. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) also offered to pay Luther's $7,000 fine and serve her 7-day sentence for her from house arrest. 

Luther's release has not yet been confirmed by Dallas authorities. This is a developing story and will be updated as details become available. 

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